RIFLE (9/16/11) – Averaging nearly 400 yards rushing in their first two games, the Rifle Bears seemed to have lost their ground game in the first half of a scoreless tie with defending 2A champion Olathe. But Ryan Moeller and his running mates emerged from hibernation with a pair of sustained drives in the second half as the Bears defeated the Pirates, 16-0, in their last warm-up before hosting Battle Mountain, also 3-0 in non-league play, to open their Western Slope League schedule next Friday.
Held to just 42 yards in 16 carries, the Bears uncharacteristically went to the air with some success in the first quarter, but turnovers sent Rifle back on defense. Fortunately, that aspect of the Bears\' game remained steadfast — including forcing one of five Pirate turnovers when Olathe had a first-and-goal following a 90-yard drive from their own nine yard line.
The ball was popped loose from Willy Corey, saving what appeared to be a certain end to the scoreless half with 2:44 to go in the second quarter. The Bears failed to move the ball and had to punt with less than a minute remaining, giving Olathe another scoring chance from the Rifle 38. However Kellin Leigh picked off Pirate QB Ben Kaylor, who had yielded an interception to Moeller earlier in the period at the Bear 40.
Rifle quarterback Adam Rice, after completing 3 of his first four passes in the first quarter (matching his total for the Bears\' first two victories combined) was picked off on the Bears\' first play of the second quarter at the Olathe 36. The two teams combined for five turnovers in the first half, despite perfect weather conditions — which would change drastically after halftime.
Midway through the third quarter, which looked initially like a repeat of the first half\'s offensive follies, with three punts and a fumble lost by Moeller, the Bears and their all-league junior running back rediscovered their winning formula.
Moeller broke off a 19 yard run to move the ball near midfield and would gain 55 yards on six carries in the Bears\' 75 yard touchdown drive, concluded when Moeller scored from the 14 with 1:44 left in the quarter. Rifle overcame two procedure penalties in the 12-play drive to take a 7-0 lead on Marco Gutierrez\' extra point kick.
Taylor Webb intercepted Kaylor\'s pass on the Pirates\' next possession, and his return from the Bear 33, 40 yards to the Pirate 28 set up a 26 yard field goal by Gutierrez just 1:24 into the final period.
The Bear defense, which held Olathe\'s fearsome running game to just 22 yards in the second half, and harassed Kaylor into 2-of-11 passing in the final 24 minutes, forced a punt following a kickoff return to the Pirate 40, and Rifle put the game away with a 14-play, 83-yard scoring drive that consumed six-plus minutes, Webb scoring from the three with 3:07 left in the game.
Moeller, who had just 26 yards in six first half carries, finished with 145 yards rushing on 26 attempts. Brandon Kittle added 62 yards (50 in the second half) on 9 carries. Rice finished 3-of-6 passing for 42 yards. Kaylor was 7-of-20 for 103 yards and 3 interceptions. Five different backs carried for the Pirates, but none gained more than 34 yards as Olathe was limited to 104 yards rushing on 26 tries. Rifle wound up with 220 yards in 47 carries.
Rifle hosts Battle Mountain, also 3-0, and 53-28 winners over Classical Academy Friday, to open 3A Western Slope League play. The Huskies have outscored their opponents, 141-34, including a 46-6 win over Summit and 42-0 over Roaring Fork.
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